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Spring Traditions in Syria

Almost every culture that experiences winter has holidays or yearly traditions to celebrate the arrival of spring.


Different regions and communities in Syria have varying ways of putting the cold, overcast months behind them. These range from religious observances to city festivals and commemorations of ancient heritage. Due to the country’s incredibly diverse population, there’s no one specific way in which all Syrians celebrate spring. Therefore, this article will provide a broad overview of how people welcome the warmer months.


This spring coincided with Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan for Muslims worldwide. Although Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and doesn’t align with the secular Gregorian calendar, Eid has fallen in the spring for the past few years and will continue to do so until 2026. Traditionally, Eid is marked by special dawn prayers, followed by visits with friends and family to enjoy holiday meals and exchange gifts, often new clothes and shoes.


Since 2011, celebrating Eid al-Fitr has become increasingly difficult for most Syrians. The Assad regime’s brutal campaign to suppress the Syrian Revolution, along with opportunistic seizures of land and power by outside actors, has made celebrating Eid a perilous endeavor. Despite this, Muslim families across the country have persistently found ways to observe the holiday each year, striving to give their children a sense of stability amid the chaos and carnage.


The worsening humanitarian situation across Syria has adversely impacted Eid celebrations, especially in rebel-held enclaves. These areas are largely cut off from the outside world and are subject to price gouging by lawless militias and unscrupulous Turkish companies. The exorbitant cost of basic food items has cut into people’s ability to purchase candy or new clothes, making Eid a far more austere affair than in the past. 


Spring is also significant for Christians in Syria because Easter commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter dates vary each year, depending on whether the denomination follows the Gregorian or Julian calendar. Regardless, the holiday is typically marked by church services and parades on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. However, these celebrations have historically been interrupted by the regime’s indiscriminate violence and persecution campaigns conducted by extremist groups such as ISIS.


Secular spring holidays in Syria include Evacuation Day, commemorating the departure of French colonial troops on April 17, 1946. This day is traditionally marked by patriotic demonstrations, with Syrian flags displayed and national songs heard throughout the country. Syrian independence predates Assadist totalitarianism by decades. On the day of the French withdrawal, pictures show people holding green, white, and black flags adorned with three red stars. This original independence flag now serves as the Syrian opposition’s banner, referred to as the ‘Free Syria’ flag, in contrast to the red, white, and black tricolor with two green stars flown by the Assad regime.


Many spring festivals are celebrated in different cities and towns, such as the Jasmine Festival in Damascus. These events often feature shop owners promoting their businesses and local bands playing traditional music.


Spring is also a time when minority communities in Syria celebrate holidays that have long faced suppression by intolerant governments. One example of this is Newroz, an originally Persian holiday observed by Kurds in Syria despite decades of legal and social pressure against it. Kurdish families gather together to enjoy special meals, Kurdish music, and sometimes light torches or bonfires to symbolize the cold, bleak winter giving way to warmer, brighter seasons. Spring is also a time when minority communities in Syria celebrate holidays that have long faced suppression by intolerant governments.


One example of this is Newroz, an originally Persian holiday observed by Kurds in Syria despite decades of legal and social pressure. Kurdish families gather together to enjoy special meals, Kurdish music, and sometimes light torches or bonfires to symbolize the transition from the cold, bleak winter to warmer, brighter seasons.


Newroz has evolved over centuries from a Zoroastrian ceremony into a secular spring holiday practised by all Iranian peoples, including Kurds. It serves as a time for family reunions and political demonstrations campaigning against discrimination and the erasure of Kurdish identity.Another holiday celebrated by minority communities in Syria every spring is Kha b-Nisan, also known as Akitu or Assyrian New Year. This day is observed by Assyrians, Syriacs, and Chaldeans, majority-Christian communities indigenous to the Mesopotamian region who speak Neo-Aramaic languages. While the Assad regime has never recognised Akitu as an official holiday, it allows Assyrian communities a degree of freedom to hold small, public celebrations.


Kha b-Nisan or Akitu is traditionally celebrated with family gatherings and parades where participants wear Assyrian costumes, wave the Assyrian flag, and sing songs in the Assyrian language.


All of these holidays have unfortunately become politicized amid the ongoing political tug-of-war between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition. The regime utilizes holiday parades as a platform to promote political messages and reinforce the cult of personality surrounding the Assad family. However, Syrians both within the country and abroad strive to keep politics and nationalism separate from their holidays, as these traditions largely predate the establishment of Syria as a modern nation-state.


As Bassel Shehadeh said, “Peaceful forever, despite you Assad!”


Holidays hold a deeper significance for Free Syrians beyond mere festivities. They serve as a battleground in the cultural struggle between the regime and the opposition. Reclaiming traditions from the regime’s politicization is a crucial step toward demonstrating that Syria can and should exist without the domination of the Assad family over government, security services, and commerce. Additionally, it is important to learn about the lesser-known holidays observed by the country’s minority communities to counter the regime's efforts to divide and conquer.


While most stories coming out of Syria understandably focus on the battles fought between warring factions or the innocent people targeted for horrific war crimes, it’s crucial to recognize that these events shouldn’t be the sole association with the words “Syria” or “Syrian.” 

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